Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Wednesday he would bring Osama bin Laden to justice in a way that wouldn’t allow the terrorist mastermind to become a martyr, but he may be killed if the U.S. government finds him.
"First of all, I think there is an executive order out on Osama bin Laden’s head," the Illinois senator said at a news conference. "And if I’m president, and we have the opportunity to capture him, we may not be able to capture him alive."
Obama’s campaign said he was referring to a classified Memorandum of Notification that President Clinton approved in 1998 — revealed in the 9/11 Commission report — that would allow the CIA to kill bin Laden if capture weren’t feasible.
Obama said he wouldn’t discuss what approach he would take to bring bin Laden to justice if he were apprehended. But he said the Nuremberg trials for the prosecution of Nazi leaders are an inspiration because the victors acted to advance universal principles and set a tone for the creation of an international order.
"What would be important would be for us to do it in a way that allows the entire world to understand the murderous acts that he’s engaged in and not to make him into a martyr, and to assure that the United States government is abiding by basic conventions that would strengthen our hand in the broader battle against terrorism," Obama said.
Obama was questioned about bin Laden after he met with a new team of national security advisers. The meeting came after rival John McCain’s campaign said Obama had a pre-9/11 mind-set for promoting criminal trials for terrorists.
"I refuse to be lectured on national security by people who are responsible for the most disastrous set of foreign policy decisions in the recent history of the United States," Obama said in opening remarks that in part referred to the Iraq war.
He stood in front of 17 American flags and a sign that said "Judgment to Lead." He was surrounded by national security experts who had formerly served in Congress and the Clinton administration and will be advising his campaign — an effort to bring foreign policy experience to a candidate who has served just three years in Congress.
"Osama bin Laden and his top leadership — the people who murdered 3,000 Americans — have a safe-haven in northwest Pakistan, where they operate with such freedom of action that they can still put out hate-filled audiotapes to the outside world," Obama said. "That’s the result of the Bush-McCain approach to the war on terrorism."
McCain told reporters in Missouri that under a recent Supreme Court ruling that Obama supports, bin Laden would be awarded new legal rights if he were captured and brought to the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where military detainees are being held.
"It’s very clear to me that it was a wrong decision," McCain said. The Republican presidential contender also approvingly cited former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s recent comment that Obama "doesn’t have an understanding of the nature of that threat" from terrorists.
How to handle bin Laden has been a tricky question for presidents and those who would like to be in the White House. In the 2004 campaign, Democratic candidate Howard Dean was criticized for refusing to prejudge bin Laden’s guilt before a trial. President Bush has said his statement that he wanted to capture Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" was one of the biggest mistakes of his presidency because it was misinterpreted around the world.
Obama’s 13-member foreign policy advisory group includes three who advised Hillary Rodham Clinton and served in her husband’s Cabinet — former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher and former Defense Secretary William Perry. Albright was asked if she brought any advice from Clinton, who had questioned whether Obama had the experience to be commander in chief.
"Their positions are so similar on restoring America’s leadership," she said as she walked out the door without stopping to say anything more.
Other working group members include Sam Nunn of Georgia, Lee Hamilton of Indiana, David Boren of Oklahoma and Tim Roemer of Indiana — all former Democratic lawmakers known for their foreign policy expertise. It also includes several Clinton administration officials — Tony Lake, Susan Rice, Greg Craig, Eric Holder, Richard Danzig and Jim Steinberg. Holder, a former deputy attorney general, is helping lead Obama’s search for a running mate.
Obama later met in the same hotel ballroom with 41 retired admirals and generals to discuss the state of the military and the challenges in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
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